MONEY Fast Food

McDonald’s Will Customize Your Burger — and Shrink Its Menu

The fast-food giant is rolling out several measures to combat slumping sales and regain what the company calls "burger leadership."

TIME Fast Food

McDonald’s Has a Weird New Burger in the Works

File photo of a McDonald's restaurant sign at a McDonald's restaurant in Del Mar, California
A McDonald's restaurant sign is seen at a McDonald's restaurant in Del Mar, Calif. on April 16, 2013. Mike Blake—Reuters

Something fishy's happening at the fast food chain

It’s not a Krabby Patty, exactly, but McDonald’s is releasing a crab-filled burger in Japan. According to Kotaku, the new burger will feature a croquette filled with snow crab and mushrooms and use lettuce and tomato sauce as additional toppings. Even though it’s seafood, McDonald’s Japan is marketing the dish as a burger.

Those hungry for an actual Krabby Patty will have to venture to Palestine, where a restaurant owner has built a replica of the Krusty Krab that, judging by the location’s Facebook page, has yet to be shut down by Nickelodeon’s lawyers.

ModelPress

[ModelPress]

TIME burgers

The Best Burger Joint in the World Is About to Make a Big Change

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Loic Lagarde—Getty Images/Flickr Open

The latest in a growing trend

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This post is in partnership with Fortune, which offers the latest business and finance news. Read the article below originally published at Fortune.com.

By John Kell

Fast-food burger chain Shake Shack is reportedly planning to launch an initial public offering, the latest dining chain angling to give investors something to chew on.

The company’s majority owner, Union Square Hospitality Group LLC, has reportedly interviewed banks in recent weeks to appoint underwriters for the IPO, Reuters reported on Friday, citing people familiar with the matter. Shake Shack, which first opened a kiosk in Madison Square Park in New York City, has restaurants in just four U.S. states and the District of Columbia, as well as a few locations abroad.

Shares of consumer-focused restaurant and grocery chains often surge on the first day of trading, as investors place a bet on smaller players they hope can one day be the next Chipotle, Whole Foods, or Panera.

For the rest of the story, please go to Fortune.com.

MONEY Shopping

5 Ways to Trim Your Meat Budget During Barbecue Season

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Flamed grilled steaks on a barbecue Carlos Davila—Alamy

Smart, simple ways to keep the soaring price of beef from ruining your grilling season.

Just in time for prime barbecuing season, there’s been an across-the-board rise in meat prices. Many reasons have been cited for higher prices at the supermarket—lingering drought conditions tend to be blamed the most—but farm groups point to another culprit: you.

Strong consumer demand, especially for high-quality meats, is the primary reason, according to Bob Young, chief economist at the American Farm Bureau Federation. “Consumers are feeling better about themselves and their income situation and willing to pay up for good meat,” Young told The Atlantic recently. “I think that given the stronger demand, folks are going to find not quite the cut they want for the price they want. They might have to downmarket a bit.”

Here are five smart ways to cope without giving up your barbecue fix.

Buy in bulk. Maybe from the back of a truck. No matter if you’re at Costco, Walmart, or your local grocer, you’ll almost always pay a lower per-pound price for steaks, ground beef, and more by purchasing meats in larger packages—over 3 pounds, typically. Foodies and frugality gurus alike often recommend the strategy of buying a side of beef or an entire pig straight from a trusted farmer, though this isn’t always practical for folks who don’t have the freezer space or the desire to sharpen up their butcher’s skills.

One of the more odd and intriguing means of buying in bulk comes from a Washington-based company called Zaycon Foods, whose curious sales procedure—and terrific prices, under $2 a pound for chicken breasts—started attracting national attention more than a year ago. You won’t find the Zaycon brand at any store; instead, the company uses a no-middleman approach to business, in which customers place orders online and pick them up at a prearranged time from the back of a truck that’s waiting in, say, a church parking lot. The meat is never frozen; it’s taken from the farm and loaded onto the refrigerated trucks that wind up at pickup locations. “The products are as fresh as if you had your own farm, but without all the chores,” the Zaycon site explains. This is truly a buy-in-bulk operation, with huge packages you won’t see at the supermarket, or even Costco. An individual order of ground beef or chicken breasts is 40 pounds worth of meat.

The Seattle Times described the typical pickup scene: “The driver arrives at the designated parking lot, spreads out yellow parking cones to create a path for the customers’ cars, and hands off the boxes while checking names on an iPad.” Yet despite the quirkiness (or maybe partly because of it), Zaycon’s business has been thriving. At last check, Zaycon had roughly 1,300 drop-off locations in 48 states. Some 325,000 customers have signed up with the company around the country, up from just 84,000 registered users at the end of 2011.

Freeze now, eat later. It goes without saying that if you’re going to make use of Zaycon, or Costco’s meat section for that matter, owning a large freezer is in a must. Of course, smart grocery shoppers also stock up on meats for grilling when their favorite supermarket has a good sale, or there’s a great coupon circulating, rather than right before the July 4 weekend, when you’ll have to pay top dollar. Yet again, a good—and good-sized—freezer is in order, as is some basic knowledge about defrosting meat safely, without losing flavor.

Master of the art of leftovers. Today’s grilled steak is tomorrow’s shabu-shabu. Sure, you could simply heat up the leftovers and eat, but where’s the fun in that? If done correctly, leftovers won’t taste like leftovers, and they can be stretched out and incorporated into several days’ worth of eating. To spice things up, consult SuperCook and enter the foods and ingredients you have handy to see what new dish you can make. For leftover grilled meats, Real Simple recommends sprinkling barbecue sauce, a marinade, or just water over what you have, then wrapping it in foil and warming over indirect heat for a few minutes. Plain old reheating can dry out the meat.

Don’t be snobby about cheap cuts. Ground beef that’s 90% lean will be more expensive than ground chuck that’s 70% or 80% lean. And guess what? The fattier stuff offers far superior taste in a burger. Whereas burgers made with lean ground beef tend to be dense and dry, a 70% lean burger will be juicy and tasty. As a bonus, a lot of the fat drips off in the grilling process. As for grilling steaks, consider less expensive cuts like the skirt and hanger steak over the pricier strip or ribeye. When seasoned and cooked wisely, the cheap cuts won’t taste cheap.

Embrace meatless Monday. It’s an easy way to save a little cash and get a little healthier: At least once a week—it doesn’t have to be a Monday—go meatless. You can still fire up the grill. The Meatless Monday movement offers plenty of suggestions for meals planned around grilled vegetables. Quinoa and white bean burgers anyone?

TIME Fast Food

Here’s Where You Can Order the New McDonald’s Burger With Guacamole

McDonald's Same Store Sales Up 7.1 Percent In January
Justin Sullivan—Getty Images

McDonald's franchises in Denver, Colorado are experimenting with a "Guacamole Burger"

Is it a burger, or is it a burrito? It’s more like a “burgerrito.”

McDonald’s is adding guacamole to a new burger sold at select franchises. Available in Denver, Colorado, the Guacamole Burger sports a Hass avocado guacamole, pico de gallo, lettuce and white Cheddar and is served on a shiny artisan bun.

The burger is priced on the higher end at $4.79. But at the locations where it’s available in Denver, guacamole can be added for 89 cents to any sandwich, and diners can also order a guacamole dip, CBS reports. And crispy or grilled chicken versions of the Guacamole Burger are also available.

McDonald’s has tried guacamole on its Chicken Flatbreads in 2010, according to Burger Business, and it is among the toppings offered at the “build your own burger” program in southern California.

The fast food giant may be heading into uncertain territory, however: Chipotle announced in April that items like guacamole were placing a heavy burden on its expenses.

[Burger Business]

 

TIME Food & Drink

The 25 Best Burgers in the U.S.

William Brinson Photography

From the editors of Food & Wine, a list of the top patties around America

The burger, America’s quintessential comfort food, can now be enjoyed in an impossibly endless number of ways. There are round-the-clock burgers at 24-hour-roadside joints and ephemeral late-night burgers sold out in mere minutes; burgers grilled in hundred-year-old cast-iron broilers and burgers steamed in state-of-the-art ovens; burgers crafted from Kobe beef imported from Japan and burgers made with Black Angus beef from just down the road. It’s clearly a great time to love the burger. Food & Wine has singled out the best.

New York City: Shake Shack

Signature Burger: ShackBurger (Black Angus beef patty topped with American cheese, tomato, lettuce, and “Shack Sauce,” served in a grilled potato bun).

Uber restaurateur Danny Meyer’s beloved mini empire has a cult following among Gotham burger geeks. Must-order items include the ShackBurger (served with American cheese, tomato, lettuce, and “Shack Sauce” in an old-fashioned wax paper wrapper) and a “hand-spun” chocolate-and-peanut-butter custard shake.

Ohio: B-Spot Burgers

Signature Burger: Lola Burger.

Michael Symon, F&W Best New Chef 1998, specializes in “meat on meat” burgers at his Ohio-based chain B-Spot. Named after his Cleveland flagship, the Lola Burger could almost double as a breakfast sandwich since it’s piled high with bacon and a fried egg (in addition to pickled red onions, cheddar cheese and mayo).

MORE: Best Bacon Burgers in the U.S.

New York City: Minetta Tavern

Signature Burger: Black Label Burger (topped with caramelized onions).

Minetta Tavern’s excellent burgers use a beef blend—dry-aged rib eye, skirt steak, brisket and short rib—from famed purveyor Pat LaFrieda, and buns from Balthazar Bakery.

MORE: Over-the-Top Burgers

Atlanta, GA: Holeman & Finch

Signature Burger: Burger (two cheeseburgers on a house-made bun).

Star chef Linton Hopkins announces “burger time”—10 p.m.—with the ringing of two bull horns; that’s when two dozen grass-fed beef burgers are up for grabs and consistently sold out within minutes. The burgers are also available on the Sunday brunch menu.

California: In-N-Out Burger

Signature Burger: Cheeseburger.

Even superstar chef Thomas Keller is a fan of the West Coast chain—and with good reason. The cooked-to-order burgers are made with beef from Southwest ranches and served with hand-cut fries. For a messier, more indulgent experience, order your burger “Animal Style” for extra sauce and chopped grilled onions.

READ THE FULL LIST HERE

More from Food & Wine:

Best Pizza Places in the U.S.

Best Fried Chicken in the U.S.

TIME Food and Beverage Industry

Big Comeback Planned for the All-American Drive-in Burger Joint

Wendy's hamburger has become more popular than McDonald's.
Paul Vernon / AP

The once-ubiquitous drive-in restaurant–you know, the kind with rollerskating waitresses–will be seen again very soon in all parts of the country, even in states where you wouldn’t want to eat outside for much of the year.

Sonic, the old-fashioned burger-and-shake chain known as “America’s Drive-in,” grew steadily in the early years of the new century. The company hit the 2,000-location market in 1999, and promptly leaped up to 3,000 drive-in locations by 2005. By late 2008, the 3,500th Sonic location opened in the U.S.

However, that’s where the expansion leveled off. Here we are, six years later, and the Sonic website lists the number of locations as simply “more than 3,500.”

It’s understandable that Sonic’s growth might slow substantially of late. The company’s franchise expansion stalled around the time of the Great Recession, when business slowed across a wide range of industries. Over the past five years or so, fast food lunch and dinner sales totals have generally plateaued, and a perception has taken hold that perhaps we’re reaching the point when American consumers just can’t handle any more fast food burger joints.

What’s more, Sonic stands out in the crowded field due to its drive-in feature, in which customers pull up into parking spots in their cars, place their order, and wait for one of the restaurant’s old-fashioned “carhop” staffers to delivery the food. It’s a charming custom, but the charm wears off when, say, it’s 20 degrees and there’s 18 inches of snow on the ground.

“The main difference that sets drive-ins and drive-thrus apart is that the demand for drive-ins is more heavily dependent on the weather,” Hester Jeon, an analyst with IBIS World, explained recently to Marketplace. “Sonic’s business dips pretty dramatically during the colder months.”

So another reason that Sonic’s growth slowed is that it was running out of warm-weather spots to open up more franchises. The company is based in Oklahoma, and its restaurants have traditionally been concentrated there and in Texas, Mississippi, Tennessee, and throughout the South—pretty much everywhere that spring starts early and the chill of fall sets in late.

Nonetheless, Sonic just announced huge plans for growth, with expansion in the U.S. expected to reach roughly the same pace it reached in the early ’00s. The numbers thrown around by Sonic are bold, and nice and round: 1,000 new locations over the next 10 years.

In light of the company’s already heavy presence in the South, how will Sonic do it? First, it’s targeting states with mild climates that don’t already have an abundance of Sonics, namely California. Over the next six years, the goal is to open 15 Sonics in southern California, specifically in greater Los Angeles and San Diego County, and another 15 elsewhere in California. By 2020, Sonic expects to have a total of 300 drive-in locations in the state.

Second, and most interestingly, Sonic isn’t shying away from cold-weather locations. Last summer, Sonic opened in its 44th state, an unlikely one for a drive-in chain: North Dakota.

What makes Sonic’s expansion to North Dakota and other spots with short summers feasible is the introduction of a new restaurant design prototype that features drive-in stalls and outdoor seating that most Sonics, but that also includes a decent-sized area for indoor seating—making the idea of eating at Sonic in January in North Dakota or upstate New York seem not totally nuts. “With locations up north, we had to think creatively about how to develop a location that works with inclement weather while still matching the iconic SONIC Drive-In look,” Bob Franke, Sonic senior vice president of franchise sales and international development, said in a press release for the opening of the North Dakota location. “The result is a new SONIC Drive-In prototype that gives our guests many options during their visit that won’t be disrupted by a little snow.”

The result for diners is that even if they live in an area of the country where drive-in dining wouldn’t be comfortable for the majority of the year, they’ll be fairly likely to see a Sonic pop up in their neck of the woods in the near future. “The Northern states are ripe with expansion opportunities for Sonic, given the brand’s relatively small footprint in the area combined with high customer awareness and pent-up demand,” Franke said earlier this year. Over the next handful of years, 13 new Sonics are planned in the vicinity of Buffalo and Rochester, N.Y., and by 2018 another 14 should open in the greater Seattle area.

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